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Ask Ethan: How Can Worlds That Never Get Above Freezing Have Liquid Water?

30 Sep 2017, 14:01 UTC
Ask Ethan: How Can Worlds That Never Get Above Freezing Have Liquid Water?
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The highly-reflective surface of Saturn’s icy moon, Enceladus, indicates the presence and abundance of consistently fresh surface ice, like no other moon in the Solar System. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Space Science Institute.How three factors come together to unfreeze the ice, and unlock the potential for extraterrestrial life.“Day after day, day after day,We stuck, nor breath nor motion;As idle as a painted shipUpon a painted ocean.Water, water, every where,And all the boards did shrink;Water, water, every where,Nor any drop to drink.” -Samuel Taylor ColeridgeThe Solar System has proved a surprising place, and perhaps one of the biggest surprises is that Earth isn’t the only world with liquid water on its surface. Sure, there’s a tiny bit that temporarily exists on Mars, but worlds like Jupiter’s moon Europa, Saturn’s Enceladus, and even ultra-distant Pluto all harbor enormous subsurface oceans, with some of these worlds having even more water than Earth. Yet unlike Earth or even Mars, these worlds are so distant from the Sun and so cold that the warmest surface temperature never even approaches water’s melting point. So how do they have liquid water? That’s what Gary Lapidus wants to know:I was reading about Saturn’s moon Enceladus, and ...

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